Well it ought. The beet has lived many lives before its most recent re-discovery as a toothsome, colorful addition to the plate and the palate. Some claim that they were grown in Nebuchadnezzar’s Hanging Gardens. What evidence anyone could have of this is a mystery, as is the actual location of those fabled gardens. Isn’t it lovely to have a few things yet unexplained?
Native to the Mediterranean Basin, beets have played many parts in its history. Initially it was cultivated for its leaves, now known as Swiss Chard. Early Romans proclaimed beetroots to be superior to cabbage. Over the course of time, beets were used to counteract garlic breath; employed as a laxative; and used to treat digestive and blood disorders. It is unclear how a blood disorder was diagnosed if you weren’t actually bleeding in that time. Beets have long been used as dyes: first for cloth, much later for coloring Easter eggs, and it is still used to intensify the color of candies, jams, jellies, tomato sauces and desserts.
Trendy Romans served baby beets, or blood turnips, as the very newest in food vogue. Otherwise, beets and their root brethren were considered peasant food. One particularly large, coarse variety, the mangel wurzel was used solely as cattle fodder. Then again humans once believed that the earth was flat and later that the sun revolved around the earth. Fortunately, questing taste buds have long since placed the beet back on our tables.
The beet is versatile to the table. It can be eaten raw, roasted, boiled, steamed, sautéed, grilled, braised and pickled. It is equally open to many flavor combinations including nuts, cheeses, garlic, chives, shallots, basil, ginger, oranges, lemons, Moroccan and Asian spice combinations, farro, risotto, pasta, yogurts and sour cream. Like so many other vegetables and fruits, our farmers are re-establishing heirloom beets in all their splendid color and subtle flavor variations. Our market offers golden beets, the Italian Chiogga beets with their pretty concentric circles, baby beets, orange beets and the traditional deep garnet beets.
Today’s recipe, Mixed Beets with Chévre, Pistachios and Thai Basil, combines a number of these varieties.